Anxiety impacts many people, but may be especially prevalent and acute for those who are creative, gifted and highly sensitive.

Psychotherapist Diana Pitaru writes, “Anxiety is a common emotion experienced by creative people and while some of the symptoms may be similar from one person to the next, how and when people experience anxiety differs widely.”

She adds, “Sometimes anxiety is experienced as a reaction to our surrounding environment.

“Something –negative or with negative connotations- happens in our environment, we perceive it as a threat to our current or future self and as a way to protect and defend ourselves we become anxious…”

“Another type of anxiety is a more constant one that we carry around throughout our lives, many times, since childhood. In this context anxiety has been used as a defense mechanism from a very young age.”

From Keys to Creativity: Using anxiety to create. By Diana C. Pitaru, M.S., L.P.C.

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Lady GagaThis photo is musician, actor and performance artist Lady Gaga.

She once commented about one of the common experiences of many artists: a racing mind.

She said she used prescription medicine because “I can’t control my thoughts at all. I’m tortured. But I like that.

“Lorca says it’s good to be tortured. The thoughts are unstoppable – but so is the music. It comes to me constantly.”

From my article Artists and Mental Health.

(Photo from facebook.com/ladygaga)

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But some anxieties – like an overbearing level of perfectionism – can interfere with our creative inspiration and expression, and be crippling in other areas of life.

Why would high ability and highly sensitive creative people be more susceptible to anxiety and stress?

Paula ProberPaula Prober, M.S., M.Ed., is a licensed counselor who works with adults to “heal unresolved issues from childhood and specializes in counseling and consulting with gifted adults, youth, and families.”

She is author of Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being for Gifted Adults and Youth.

In an article (on her site) The More You Know, The More You Worry, she writes:

“Perhaps you thought that if you were smart, you wouldn’t be a worrier.

“If you were smart, you’d know all of the answers. You wouldn’t have to be anxious because you could think your way out of any problem.

“But, in fact, you may worry constantly. You worry when you’re sleeping. When you’re hiking. When you’re cooking. When you’re driving. When you’re not worrying.

“So what’s with that? Let me explain.

“Your very active rainforest mind is able to dream up so many things to worry about. Less complex minds may worry less because there isn’t as much thinking.

“With you, there’s lots of thinking.

“And if you’re highly creative? Watch out. Even more worries.”

Prober offers multiple suggestions under the amusing heading:
“What, then, can be done, when a lobotomy isn’t an option?”

Among them is “Read the research from the Heartmath Institute and see if you might want to try one of their devices to improve what they call your ‘heart rate variability’ and reduce your stress.”

See information and testimonials about this technology in my article
HeartMath Tools for Emotional Balance.

You can also learn more in this webinar:

Navigating Turbulent Times Using Your Heart’s Intelligence – A free presentation by HeartMath author and teacher Howard Martin.

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Michele Kane, Ed.D., an Associate Professor and the President of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children, gave a presentation on Stress and Anxiety: Helping Gifted Kids Cope – which also has helpful perspectives for us adults.

She points out that stress is universal and experienced by everyone, and that “Being bright, talented, creative, motivated, smart, ambitious, and even good looking can add to the stress in your life.”

“Academic success and drive aren’t enough to make life manageable. The world is too complicated and intense, and it’s changing too fast.”

anxiety woman from Michele Kane stress pdfShe notes “There are no easy answers, simple solutions, or quick fixes for managing stress” but says, “You can learn to understand why your life gets oppressive, depressive, stressed or otherwise unhealthy. You can learn to live in a new and better way.”

Here is more from her presentation:

Sources of Stress for Gifted People

SITUATIONAL

  • conflict between our values and the values of others (what is and what ought to be)
  • interpersonal disharmony
  • lack of intellectual stimulation or challenge
  • challenges beyond our capability to respond
  • threats to emotional or physical well-being
  • lack of resources to accomplish a task
  • time constraints

SELF-IMPOSED

  • setting excessively high standards for ourselves
  • fear of failure
  • fear of success
  • negative self-talk
  • emotionally loaded/highly evaluative beliefs about ourselves and our environment
  • believing that everyone should love, respect, and praise us
  • buying into others’ negative evaluations of us
  • catastrophizing
  • worrying

EXISTENTIAL

  • global concerns (e.g., nuclear disaster, war, poverty, world hunger, the environment, etc.)
  • idealism
  • anger at fate
  • isolation
  • need for meaning and purpose

Strategies to Help Gifted Kids with Stress

  • Share resources for meditation and visualization; explain the effect on the body
  • Explain the biology of stress; determine which how the body sends signals
  • Encourage deep breathing and exercise to minimize personal stress
  • Supply biographies of notables that were able to resolve personal situations
  • Promote experiences in nature as a way to self-soothe

For much more, see the PDF of her presentation: Stress and Anxiety: Helping Gifted Kids Cope.

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More strategies to relieve stress and anxiety

In an interview about his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel, PhD comments on why artists may be more vulnerable:

“First of all, so much is on the line. For someone who’s self-identified as a writer, painter, composer, scientist, inventor, and so on, [their] identity and ego are wrapped up in how well [they create] – and when what we do matters that much, we naturally get anxious.”

Mastering Creative Anxiety bookDr. Maisel notes that in his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, he presents “a menu of twenty-two effective anxiety management tools, enough tools that everyone can find at least one or two that will work well.

“The simplest is to remember to breathe; a few deep cleansing breaths can do wonders for reducing anxiety.

“The most important anxiety management tool is probablycognitive work, where you change the things you say to yourself, turning anxious thoughts into calmer, more productive thoughts.

“And creating a lifestyle that supports calmness is also very important: if the way you live your life produces a lot of anxiety, that’s a tremendous extra burden on your nervous system.”

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More articles:

Being a perfectionist, being anxious

Creative Anxiety – So Much On The Line

Managing Creative Anxiety: Change Your Thinking

Sensitive to anxiety

Guided Imagery and Emotional Health

Emotional Health Resources page

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